GW’s decision to create its own version of President George W. Bush’s Office of Homeland Security is a prudent, thoughtful first step toward adapting to the post-Sept. 11 world. Retired Navy Captain John Petrie will assume the new position of assistant vice president for public safety and emergency management. He will be charged with expanding, coordinating and executing the University’s emergency plans and will report to Louis Katz, vice president and treasurer.
The hiring of Petrie underscores the need for GW to develop effective emergency plans and make everyone aware of what to do in the event of another attack. Petrie’s past work experience as commanding officer of the naval station in Norfolk, Va., is impressive. His job demanded that he manage a $200 million budget and direct a staff of 5,000. These facts about a man entrusted with the safety of the community should minimize and calm understandable feelings of anxiety.
On its surface, the new office does appear to be a shrewd move by the University to make real progress, not public relations offensives mired by fluff.
GW officials have not hidden from the fact that the University was not prepared to respond to a city-wide crisis. Before Sept. 11, GW had not even looked at D.C.’s emergency crisis plan. Now, GW must evaluate its weaknesses – campus-wide communication systems and procedures for full-scale evacuations topping the list.
Despite good intentions and high expectations of administrators, this new job is no easy task. Petrie will have to use his managerial and organizational skills to their fullest by navigating through the complex web of GW bureaucracies, a task currently plaguing Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge in his dealings with federal security agencies.
Everyone at GW has a personal stake in the success of Petrie’s coming initiatives. As the country braces and prepares for another possible depraved act of mass murder, the GW community should spare no expense to create a comprehensive and effective plan that can save lives.
As students, faculty members and administrators, we can help Petrie and others protect us by keeping informed of changes in crisis plans and cooperating with practice evacuations.